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Early last week Judith Ann Shannon, mother of four, began to notice that her husband was acting strangely. Normally attentive, 25-year-old Mike Shannon, right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, was wandering through the house with his eyes focused on infinity and his mind in the same general vicinity. Nothing Judy said seemed to get through. But Judy Shannon was not unduly disturbed—she had seen the symptoms before.
Last year, when the Cardinals won 19 of 20 games to pull within one game of the Los Angeles Dodgers with only 10 games remaining, Mike Shannon was just a spear carrier, but even then he was restless; he smoked too much and he kept scratching his head. Now the Cardinals were a game and a half away from the first-place Cincinnati Reds and a half game behind the second-place Philadelphia Phillies with six games left. And this time Mike Shannon was a central figure.
Everyone in St. Louis felt good about Shannon; a St. Louis boy, he was a high school All-America in football and All-State in basketball. And everyone remembered the Shannons' troubles of last year. After giving birth to their fourth child in four years of marriage, Judy was taken ill and was unable to care for the children, and she needed Mike home in St. Louis and not chasing fly balls with the Cardinal farm team in Atlanta. After nine games at Atlanta, Shannon decided to quit baseball, but rather than lose him, General Manager Bing Devine brought Mike up to the Cardinals and in 32 games he hit .308. Shortly after that his wife got well.
When Mike jumped into his Chevy station wagon on Monday, September 28 for the 20-minute drive to Busch Stadium where the Cards were to play the Phils in the first of a three-game series, he said, "Big one tonight, baby. We can't afford to lose." In the second inning, after First Baseman Bill White singled and Second Baseman Julian Javier sent White to third with another single to right center, Shannon came to bat facing Chris Short, Philadelphia's best left-hander. The crowd of 24,000 gave Mike a big hand, and he drove Philadelphia's Wes Covington back to the left-field wall to send White home. With a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning the Cardinals got going again, and Shannon singled home two runs to make the final score 5-1. The Cards had jumped over the Phils in the standings and were a game away from first place.
The team clattered up the stairs to the dressing room and Mike Shannon turned on the tape recorder over his locker. A rollicking number called Our Old Home Team filled the room. Far down the hall from the noise, Manager Johnny Keane heard a knock on a door that in the memory of the oldest Cardinal had never been opened. Butch Yatkeman, the clubhouse man, found a grimy key and opened the door, and in swept Branch Rickey, the 82-year-old "special consultant" who, many believe, had General Manager Bing Devine fired just six weeks ago and does not want Keane to return in 1965 (SI, Sept. 21). Rickey grabbed Keane with both hands and said, " Johnny Keane, you are a gosh-dang fine manager." Then he was gone, the door closing behind him.
Next evening Lou Brock, the tiny left fielder, was the first Cardinal regular in uniform, and he got Dave Ricketts to pitch baseballs to him for half an hour. Brock did nothing but bunt. In the very first inning, with Curt Flood on first base, Brock placed a perfect sacrifice bunt on the grass between the pitching mound and first, and he was just beaten by Pitcher Dennis Bennett's throw. Brock's extra practice paid off when Dick Groat doubled Flood home, and the Cardinals added two more runs in the second. Starting Pitcher Ray Sadecki was having trouble, however, and when the Phils started a rally in the seventh Keane took him out and brought in 38-year-old Knuckleballer Barney Schultz, and Schultz stopped the Phils cold to save a 4-2 win.
The reporters crowded around Schultz in the dressing room, and as they did Catcher Tim McCarver and Sadecki began scrambling through the bottom of McCarver's locker. McCarver put a rubber horror mask—the Werewolf—over his face, folded up a piece of paper and stood in the back of the group of reporters. Months ago McCarver and Sadecki had walked all over Chicago to find the masks. McCarver bought the Werewolf and Sadecki got one of Quasimodo. On this night, two masks that had been getting laughs all year really broke up the clubhouse. The Cards were happy and loose. Just before leaving the field they had heard that Cincinnati had lost to Pittsburgh 2-0, and now the Cardinals were tied for first. Captain Ken Boyer sat on a stool and covered his face with his hands and whispered, "This is the closest I've been to playing in a World Series. I'd give 10 years of my life to play in one."
Philadelphia's fall had been a brutal thing. Manager Gene Mauch said it was "like watching someone drown." On Wednesday the Phillies played a game that no member of the team will ever forget. They made four errors in the first four innings while St. Louis collected eight runs and 11 hits and an 8-5 victory.
The Cards hung on in their dressing room, listening to the 16-inning game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati that the Pirates finally won when Jerry May squeezed home the only run of the game. Not long after it was over, the phone rang in the motel room where Groat and Bob Skinner live. Both are former Pirates. The call was from Bill Virdon and Bill Mazeroski. "Dick," said Virdon to his old roommate, Groat, "you shouldn't need much help now."
It certainly seemed that way on Friday evening as the Cards opened a three-game series with the last-place New York Mets. St. Louis had a half-game lead with only three left; they had the momentum of an eight-game winning streak while the Mets were in an eight-game losing streak. Bob Gibson was ready, riding a personal streak of nine consecutive complete games during which his record had been 8-1.